Britain is the biggest chocolate market in western Europe, with sweet-toothed Brits each munching their way through some 10kg of the stuff each year, according to market analysts Datamonitor. Countlines are the most popular products, accounting for 45 per cent of total volumes, and as a result much of the new product innovation in recent years has centred on this sector.
Some of this innovation has centred on products which cater for an increasingly health-conscious public (Nestlé recently lauched a low-carb version of its Kit Kat and Rolo bands, for example), but the health trend appears to have had little real impact on chocolate sales in the last year: the British Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance, which represents the industry, said that chocolate sales grew by 5.3 per cent last year to £2.5 billion.
But the latest moves by two of the largest companies in the market - home-grown favourite Cadbury and Swiss giant Nestlé - suggest that growth may be harder to come by in the future and the best line of attack will be to try to steal market share from rivals.
For Cadbury has unveiled plans to launch a new product targeted fairly and squarely at Kit Kat, for year's the top-selling countline bar in Britain, helped by extensions such as the low-carb variant, bite-size Kit Kat Kubes, single-finger Kit Kat Chunky and limited-edition flavour variants such as orange and mint and more unusual variants such as Masala and Cumin.
Cadbury's Dairy Milk Wafer has been created specifically to compete head-to-head with Kit Kat, at the same time playing on the enormous popularity of the Dairy Milk name, which has already seen other Cadbury brands such as Wispa and Caramel converted to the name, according to Datamonitor.
"Cadbury's decision to take on Kit Kat shows the company's confidence in its existing brand extension formula," said Datamonitor. "The strategic risk of pulling its well-known brands under one umbrella has paid off. Cadbury clearly feels that this concept has room for growth, especially as brand extensions are easier to get off the ground than new product launches."
But Nestlé is not taking the challenge lying down, and has come up with a product of its own which will rival Dairy Milk. Nestlé is to launch a new chocolate bar called Blue Label which will compete directly with Dairy Milk, and retail for around 50 pence less than the Cadbury Brand.
Nestlé Rowntree's Graham Walker, speaking to The Grocer, claimed: "We are the ones who are leading the innovation in this category and it is us - not our competitors - who will continue to drive its growth." Yet such copycat product launches do little to support this claim, and suggest that R&D at both Nestlé and Cadbury is beginning to stagnate.
Yet, as Datamonitor suggests, there are still untapped areas for both companies to explore in more detail. "Cadbury has failed to address any of the current mega trends, such as healthy eating on-the-go snacks, with this launch [of Dairy Milk Wafer]. By leveraging the Cadbury brand to a greater degree in this area, it could further build on the success of its Dairy Milk family," the analysts commented.
If more product launches of this nature appear on the market, there is a real risk of cannibalisation - companies will not grow the market as a whole but rather simply swap their own brands for their rivals' - and this spells bad news for a market whose image is likely to become increasingly tarnished as obesity levels rise and 'junk' food opponents become even more vociferous.